The historic seaport town of Mystic, Connecticut isn’t the most obvious place to look for fine dining. But here, I was told, I would find tasting menus to the standard of The French Laundry, Thomas Keller’s revered three-Michelin-starred establishment in California. The boutique Spicer Mansion inn opened in May in the 19th-century summer home of noted ship captain Elihu Spicer, and already the foodie faithful are flocking here for chef Jennifer Backman’s creative, seasonally driven cuisine that takes full advantage of its coastal New England location.
Our meal began with delicate canapés and craft cocktails in one of the soaring living rooms, before we were shown to the dining room (second picture) – an intimate study in white and grey, with subtle linen banquettes and tasteful Baccarat settings at each table. Backman garnered a loyal following for her inventive cuisine at the Weekapaug Inn, just east of Mystic, and I was excited to see some of her signature touches in the delicious selection of amuse-bouches – the Bloody Mary oyster, for example, was served here with a piquant celery, tomato, and horseradish garnish.
Appetites whetted, our two-hour, six-course edible extravaganza ($115 per person; wine pairing, $95; menus change nightly, example in first picture) began with farm-fresh gazpacho for me, and a cantaloupe, cherry tomato, creamy burrata and fragrant herb mélange for my friend. Subsequent courses were flavourful and satisfying: sweetcorn and squash porridge with hints of tarragon; smoked corn chowder studded with Narragansett fluke, sea scallop, and bacon nuage. Backman’s preference for locally sourced seafood, meat and game was showcased on the evening of our visit in a tagliatelle with rabbit bolognese, and a dish of blackfish – a sweet, flaky variety. The two menus came together at the end with a summery peaches and cream infused with vanilla, rosemary, blackberry and brown sugar.
I literally didn’t have room for the wine pairings, but the thoughtfully curated lists made for interesting reading: Schramsberg Blanc de Blanc from the North Coast of California, Joseph Drouhin’s Domaine des Hospices de Belleville Beaujolais, and a Domaine Chandon Rosé to be paired with the pudding. And after all this, you can, of course, stay in one of the inn’s eight rooms – preferably the luxuriously appointed Spicer Suite, with it’s light-filled sitting room, enormous marble-swathed bathroom and an overall contemporary-yet-Victorian vibe. I can’t wait to return this autumn to see what Backman and her dedicated food forager – Paul McComiskey – will dig up next…